By Kathy Bedell © Saguache Today
UPDATE to the STORY
An inmate known as James “ Jaime” Stewart who was being held at the Saguache County Jail escaped on Saturday evening. As of Sunday morning, October 27 he was still at-large. According to the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office, Stewart was in for violation of parole and has been known to have violent tendencies. Residents are asked to call 719-655-2544 with any information. DO NOT APPROACH the escapee.
The incident initiated the San Luis Valley (SLV) Alert System which issued voice mails, text messages and email warnings on behalf of the Saguache County Sheriff Office (SCSO) alerting residents with the following message at 7:18 p.m. October 26, 2019:
“Attention Saguache residents: We have an escaped inmate from Saguache County Jail; he escaped within the last 10 minutes. He is wearing nothing. He is 6’1” tall, 230 pounds, brown hair, and blue eyes. He may be violent, so please do not approach. Please turn on all your outside lights, lock your doors and windows, and call 911 if seen. Thank You. Saguache County Sheriff’s Office.”
Nearly two hours later another phone voice message came into Saguache Today:
“There has been a male party who has escaped custody from the Saguache County Jail this evening, October 26 around 7 p.m. He is 6’1” tall, 230 pounds, brown hair, and blue eyes. He left his clothing around the jail, so unknown clothing description now. He has mental issues and may fight law enforcement. Please do not approach. If seen, please call 911 or Saguache County Sheriff’s Office at 719-655-2544. Please keep all doors and windows locked and call and suspicious activity in. Thank You. Saguache County Sheriff’s Office.”
As of this morning’s post (8 a.m.) no word from authorities about whether the escapee had been captured or turned himself in. However, with the temperature reported at 43 degrees in downtown Saguache during the time of the incident, residents pondered on the local social media feeds how far a naked guy could go. And with overnight temperatures in the teens, in addition to a slight trace of snow, all are hopeful to have a peaceful ending to the situation. However, neighbors in Saguache Today and residents throughout the SLV should remain on high alert.
Of course, once the initial official notification was put into motion, the keyboard commentators – and critics – got busy. And as is now the standard in today’s 21st-century world, residents in this small town of about 500 people, had a wide array of opinions regarding the situation. After all, it was the third jailbreak from Saguache in less than one year.
A prisoner escaped from Saguache County Jail on November 21, 2018 was able to elude deputies for nearly a day. Then on December 20 at 11 p.m. two inmates at the Saguache County Jail escaped at 11 p.m. but were later recaptured by the Monte Vista Police Department and a Saguache County Detention officer.
“He can always walk back in if he gets too cold and try again later since they have an open-door policy,” posted one resident. Another blogger referenced Deputy Barney Fife a TV character from the 1950s comedy program “The Andy Griffin Show,” which chronicled the challenges of wearing the badge in a small town.
However, the reality for 21st-century law enforcement in rural Colorado paints a different picture. Under the constant pressure of budgetary constraints as well as staff recruitment and retainment, Saguache Sheriff Dan Warwick holds the keys to what the fact-finders consider to be the second oldest jail in the entire state, built in 1957. It’s in poor shape and was rated as a “high priority” in 2015 by the Underfunded Courthouse Facility Commission.
And nobody is denying it. Not the residents. Not the deputies. Not Sheriff Warwick. Not even the inmates could deny the facility needs an update. But they can’t get the vote. And if you can’t get the vote, you can’t get the money.
Even with state officials threatening for years that they will “come in and shut it down,” in addition to Saguache County being listed as a “high priority” by the state, the last ballot initiative to address the jail was voted down by the Saguache County electorate. The November 2016 Ballot Issue 1B would have provided revenue generated from a 1 % sales tax increase to be used in support of the Saguache County Sheriff Office including staff training, and the maintenance and construction of a new jail and justice center. The measure was defeated with 1,486 voters opposed and 1,170 votes cast in favor.
Three years later, Sheriff Warwick and his staff continue to endure unsafe situations with inmates, as does everyone who uses the courthouse, from staff to the public it services. But as Saturday night’s incident tallies another score in the “escaped inmate” column, the situation has escalated public safety concerns.
In the short term, all sights are set on capturing the inmate and returning things to safety. In the long run, stay tuned as voters can expect to address the jail/courthouse issue again on the 2020 ballot.
That said, most San Luis Valley emergency responders agree that Sheriff Warwick made the best decision on behalf of public safety during the initial moments the community was most at risk during Saturday night’s escape. He understands that seconds count in situations like this. And with the SCSO staff in all-hands-on-deck mode, the professionals who manage the SLV Alert System were able to assist by managing the message to residents – immediately!
SLV Alert has established relationships with other law enforcement agencies in the valley, including the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office. They have established protocols in place. Their scripts contain the vital information relayed directly from law enforcement officials managing the active situation. And this time it worked; it worked very well. SIGN UP TODAY!
Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a media company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and Saguache Today.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org